Short Reviews of several Joe Haldeman Novels

This will contain spoilers

I love Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It is my favourite science-fiction-novel, and I highly recommend everyone read it.

I also devoured other Joe-haldeman-Novels, and was, disappointed.

After a recent re-read a few of his novels I noticed his style much more than in the past. It’s not just about the prose he writes, but also the elements that seem to occur in every one of his novels. Let’s look at the novels, and then his classic elements.

Joe Haldeman Novels I’ve read

  • Forever War
  • Forever War Graphic Novel
  • Forever Peace
  • Forever Free
  • Work Done for Hire
  • Marsbound
  • Starbound
  • Earthbound
  • A Separate War and Other Stories (short-story collection)
  • The Accidental Time-Machine
  • The Hemingway Hoax
  • Camouflage

 

The Forever War

Forever War was made after the jingoistic and militaristic Starship Troopers Novel came out, and take a decidely anti-militarism stance against it.

It deals with people being used and abused by an inhumane bureaucratic military machine that discards them in the most unfeeling manner, ripping them from their times and families. It was inspired by Haldeman’s eperiences during the Vietnam War.

Forever Peace

Spiritual sequel to Forever War. The main character is an academic and soldier controlling a “soldierboy”, a remotely controlled fighter while mind-sharing with several other people.

Forever Free

Actual sequel to Forever War. The last human colony tries to start an expedition 40000 years into the future.

Works pretty well except for the abrupt ending which introduces the aliens from Camouflage and a literal Deus Ex Machina.

A Separate War and Other Stories (short-story collection)

A few of the stories are great! One is a collection of four stories all starting with the line “So it became to pass that no-one had to die”, and explore different ways how immortality affects society.

Another one (“A Separate War”) ties into Forever War, but due to its short nature it doesn’t really come to anything.

The Forever War – Graphic Novel

The comic-adaption of Forever War is… disappointing. The story and environment suffer greatly from being condensed into a very compact format. Additionaly the visuals are sub-par and boring, and confusing at best. The military moves around in massive behemoth ships, but the landers look like real-world Space Shuttles.

The only positive ascept about it is a tiny bit that illuminates the main characters’ status as celebrities when returning home after their first missions, which went less explored in the actual novel.

Camouflage

Follows two shape-shifting aliens over the centuries as they navigate living among humanity.

The Hemingway Hoax

An author tries to create a “lost” Hemingway-novel and ends up jumping trough different alternate universes while evading entities which make sure that is not supposed to happen.

The Accidental Time-Machine

The Accidental Time-Machine is a riff on Orson Welles, with the protagonist accidentally assembling a time-machine and jumping long distances into the future.

Haldeman does what Haldeman does best and describes the weird and actually quite interesting civilizations that have developed in the increasingly far future, and how they came to be. Nothing ever comes from these, as they are treated as curiosities without any deeper meaning, and are as quickly abandonned as they are introduced.

As usual the story ends by barely set-up intervention of a higher power.

Marsbound, Starbound & Earthbound

The Marsbound-Trilogy is a weird beast as well.

Marsbound introduces the world with its Mars-colony and systems in place to support, as well as how it handles finding an intelligent lifeform. The sequel swaps this out for a decade-long deep-space mission to find another Alien entity, and Earthbound takes place entirely in a post-apocalyptic Earth where all electricity has been shut off by an alien species.

Work Done for Hire

Set in modern day. Main character is being framed for murder and tries to solve the mystery of it. Ends even more abruptly than the others.

Themes

Sexuality

This is treated the same vein as other “weird” stuff is treated. “Huh look at this weird future I guess this is it now”. The entirety of humanity turning bisexual is pointed out as different and accepted with resignation as the new default.

This is unlike Yoon Ha Lee‘s Ninefox Gambit, where all sexualities and genders are treated as “regular” without any need to point it out.

As most of his works were created decades ago this seems ok enough, and is still lightyears aheads of Orson Scott Card‘s absencence of everything but hetero-marriage.

Stuff happens, sudden ending

Most of his novels follow this formula. There is a series of events (mostly happening to the protagonist, and less driven by them), and then it ends.

Style

Joe Haldeman‘s style is one of helplessness in new and uncommon situations, of having unknown worlds thrust upon you. It is a stream-of-consciousness narration that lives in the now

The thing is, in certain settings it works really well.

It works in sci-fi, and it works really well in military sci-fi. It might be the only style that allows Forever War to be so brilliant.

Stock Elements

  • Older Academic / Author (often the protagonist)
  • Younger love-interest
  • Some sort of military person
  • Lots of other academics
  • Abrupt ending

Ranking (relative to each other)

  • Forever War
  • A Separate War and Other Stories (short-story collection)
  • Forever Peace
  • Forever Free
  • The Accidental Time-Machine
  • Marsbound
  • Starbound
  • Camouflage
  • The Hemingway Hoax
  • Forever War Graphic Novel
  • Earthbound
  • Work Done for Hire

Conclusion

Go read Forever War. If you want more afterwards, check out the others.

-Matthias

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